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Last week, my 6yo learnt an important lesson: It's not always safe to "respect your elders."

“Respect your elders.”

The saying hit me like a brick when my son came home from kindergarten one day and told me the older kids had been saying this to him.

I get why we say this to our kids – mostly because we want our children to be polite and nice to their grandparents or anyone older, and have their manners reflect on our parenting.

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The issue I have with this is it teaches our children that adults are superior and have the right to be respected no matter what. Some adults do not deserve that right, and we need to help our children tell the difference.

When my son told me this, my response was: “You absolutely do not have to respect your elders. You only need to respect people who show respect to you, adults included.”

We need to help our children pay attention to their instincts and their gut feelings about people. That will go a long way in helping them to stay safe and learn to trust themselves when they feel they are in danger or question the intentions of an adult they don’t feel they can trust.

When my then four-year-old daughter and I were in the chemist, we walked past an elderly man sitting on a chair waiting for his script.

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As she was little and he was sitting down, they were at the same head height and he smiled at her and said “hello”. She looked scared, she panicked a little and buried her head into my legs.

I must admit I was a bit embarrassed and I almost did the usual “say hello”, but my instincts kicked in and I realised she didn’t feel comfortable. He was a stranger and she didn’t want to interact with him for whatever reason.

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I took her hand and we walked outside, I got down to her level and said to her, “Sweetheart you didn’t feel comfortable saying hello to that man did you?” She said, “No Mummy.”

I replied, “I’m so proud of you for listening to your gut. You never have to talk to anyone if you don’t feel like it, and I won’t ever make you.”

Whoa. It was a revelation to me as I said it to her, but deep in my gut I knew I was teaching her the most valuable lesson she will ever learn about staying safe: to listen to her instincts.

Teaching my kids this has not raised defiant, rude or disrespectful kids. The opposite – they are sweet and kind and they show great respect for adults they know deserve it.

My daughter (now six) was at school last week, and at the fence was an older man with a young girl standing by the gates during their recess.

A few of her friends ran over to talk to the man and the little girl, and my daughter told her closest friend, “We aren’t going over there. He is a stranger, the little girl is a stranger and we are not going to go and talk to a stranger.”

He may have been fine, however, she made the choice that it wasn’t right for her to go there. Bless her. When she told me this story, I told her how proud I was she took that stance and felt like fist pumping my own parenting.

Feature image: Getty.

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